XPRIZE at UN Climate Change Conference in Paris

Dec 11 2015

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As COP21 careened into its final days, the questions on the minds of most people in Paris were, “Will there be a binding international agreement on climate change?” and “Is it too late?” But XPRIZE was asking questions from a different perspective, such as, “What are we doing to catalyze change?” and “How can we incentivize radical breakthroughs?”

COP21 is the largest international gathering on the planet about the planet. This year, the meeting was hosted in Paris and brought together over 150 world leaders in the same place, at the same time, on the same day. Not even the UN General Assembly does that! But there they were, and so was XPRIZE, along with innovators, activists, journalists, indigenous leaders and countless others.

XPRIZE attended COP21 to discuss our approach to making the impossible possible in energy and the environment, and our conviction that technological innovation is an important part of the path to a positive energy future. We believe that the day before an idea becomes a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea, and that a small group of dedicated individuals can change the world.

One common thread weaving our COP21 effort together has been our #myenergyvision social media campaign. Created in the lead-up to Paris, this online tool has been an amazing way to engage people in one-on-one conversations about their vision of the future of energy. But more than simply an online engagement tool, #myenergyvision is also an important step in our ongoing development of a vision for our energy future, and the role that XPRIZE can play in driving innovation and creating impact.

The mood throughout the week in Paris was one of cautious optimism for a climate treaty, tempered by a longing for real action. The optimistic message that XPRIZE offers really stood out, turning heads and rising above the noise. We demonstrated once again that people seek us out not just because of specific prize initiatives like the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE and the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, but also because of our larger mission to drive real impact for humanity. There is no better place than Paris and COP21 for us to help put XPRIZE on the global map, and it feels great!

The $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is a great example of how XPRIZE is working to incentivize breakthroughs that can help lead the transition to a positive energy future. The objective of the Carbon XPRIZE is to spur innovations that will convert CO2 emissions into valuable products. The prize was launched in September 2015, and will run through March of 2020. The winning teams will convert the most CO2 into highest value products. To be competitive, teams will have to minimize their use of energy, water, land and other inputs that impact the environment.

One highlight of the week in Paris was our participation in #EarthToParis on December 5th. Set in the beautiful Petit Palais, this daylong event was a mix of influential leaders, media and innovators, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, environmental conservation legends Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Sylvia Earle, and United National Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Our very own Dr. Paul Bunje, Principal and Senior Scientist in Energy & Environment at XPRIZE, addressed the gathering and shared the XPRIZE vision, alongside John Woolard, Senior VP of Energy at Google, actor and activist Adrian Grenier, and Aimee Christensen, Founder of Christensen Global Strategies.

On a more grassroots level, the XPRIZE team hosted an informal carbon meet-up at the Hub Culture space in central Paris. Together with our friends at the Center for Carbon Removal from Berkeley California, we gathered an intimate group for an evening of drinks and conversation. Providing a venue for a fun mix of junior and senior friends in the carbon space to relax after a long week of official events was a great way to continue the conversation.

As COP21 comes to close and we look to the post-Paris world in energy and environment, XPRIZE will be doubling down on our work to inspire the innovators of today to shape the energy landscape of tomorrow.

Marcius Extavour is the Director of Technical Operations for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.